attracting New Residential and Commercial Growth in Rural Southwestern Ontario
With a view to more businesses and people moving in, Southgate, Ontario is paving the way to a dynamic future
People are drawn to the township of Southgate for its quaint rural charm, showcased by rich farmland, local farm-to-table food options, and the sense of community that comes from knowing your neighbors and the people you do business with.
With this in mind, the municipality is working to ensure that the amenities and infrastructure are in place for the rapid residential and commercial growth it is attracting, while still maintaining the small town ambiance that Southgate is known for.
Southgate CAO Dina Lundy, explained that the Township was formed in January of 2000 when the Village of Dundalk, the Township of Proton, and the Township of Egremont was amalgamated. At the time, a logo was designed to embody the individuality, strength, natural growth, and fraternity that the new township represented. The logo shows a tree, with three thumbprint leaves surrounded by a gold ring, meant to symbolize the three uniquely distinct communities that make up Southgate, and how they will grow together into the future. 23 years later, this logo still holds strong, representing a connected community with continued growth on the horizon.
Southgate Mayor, Brian Milne reflects, “The history of the township is very much rural and agriculturally based. We have a lot of very productive farmland here. On the eastern extreme end of the township is our urban center, the town of Dundalk, and interspersed amongst the township are a number of small settlement areas.”
Boasting the highest geographic elevation in southern Ontario, the Mayor quips, “One thing I’ve been telling people is once our new water tower is built, we will have the highest body of water in the province of Ontario.” Located 90 minutes from the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario’s primary urban center, he adds that although Southgate does experience the economic and cultural effects of that proximity, the township has remained a rural community, although the last 5 years have shown a shift towards a bit of a commuter trend.
Township Planner Clinton Stredwick talks about the residential development happening in Southgate, sharing, “In the last five years, we’ve had quite a significant uptake in development with subdivisions from a few developers. It started out small with a 70-unit subdivision and then a 66-unit subdivision in Dundalk itself, which is our primary service settlement area. Initially, we had those two small developments, and then they sort of exploded and opened up other areas of Dundalk.”
Since then, the township has seen continued development, bringing approximately 200 new units per year in 7 different subdivisions.
Terri Murphy, Economic Development Officer says this residential growth has spurred interest on the commercial side, with economic development surging in the township’s industrial parks. Southgate’s new Eco-Park has sold out in its first phase and will be ready for occupancy in the spring of 2023.
The newly zoned highway commercial lands have attracted a McDonald’s Restaurant that has a site plan submitted and under review. The restaurant is slated to open in 2024. Conversations with a large hotel chain are also underway for the highway commercial properties. This new development will open the opportunity for the Township to host larger scale events such as the Grey County Kite Festival, sports tournaments and dance or other competitions as well as accommodate business conventions and tourism.
Greenlid, manufacturers of fully compostable single-use products will have a 430,000 square foot facility at the Eco-Park, and Blue Mountain Covers, a division of Calhoun Super Structure, have recently completed a 20,000 square foot development, with plans to add 20,000 additional square feet..
“The other development that just went through minor variance is called Southgate Renewables. They will be processing organic food scraps into natural gas and feeding it into the Enbridge pipelines. That is a very exciting development,” explains Murphy.
Five years in the planning, this project is a huge undertaking, with food scraps from across the province being processed for natural gas feeding. The remaining food fibers will then be used for fertilizer or compost, making it a very environmentally friendly process. “In everything we attract here, we attempt to attract eco-friendly businesses.”
“Greenlid makes single-use cutlery and plates, and they make it all out of non-wood fibrous materials. Any of their leftover fibers are put back onto the farmer’s fields to be used as fertilizer. The majority of the natural resources to manufacture these products will be from local farmers in the area,” notes Murphy, adding that Greenlid recently received $500,000 from the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund.
As for future business attraction, Murphy says there is a 12-acre lot in the Eco-Park currently owned by a developer, and ready for development as a build-to-suit and lease property.
She describes, “It’s an industrial plaza. The lot at the front is a little bit narrower, so we have some space for smaller industries, a space for people who have a home-based business that have grown enough to move into the industrial park. In the larger space, we will have a manufacturer as the anchor business.”
In the second phase of the Eco-Park, the township has 40 acres of M1 industrial land available, and Murphy suggests there is a possibility of a few manufacturers taking over that space. With roadwork development happening in 2024, she maintains that the lot should be available for sale in 2025. “We need to create more jobs,” she asserts.
“We’re attracting the residents to move here from the GTA, people who want a more rural, charming country life and a cute downtown and having the accessibility to our trail system and our ponds and all of the nearby tourism and recreation spaces. We want people to live, work and play here. So, they need to have jobs in order to be invested in our community and also to have the time to have their kids in sports and to volunteer for community groups.”
Supporting existing and attracting new business is another priority of Southgate, which has joined with the municipalities of Chatsworth, Grey Highlands, and West Grey, to form the South Grey Chamber of Commerce. The first order of business for the new chamber is a regional job fair, connecting companies with potential employees throughout Grey County.
Through Rural Economic Development (RED) funding, the township is also participating in a regional collaboration to determine what the barriers to employment are, and how to overcome those barriers. “We’re selecting a business from each municipality to hire someone and help them overcome barriers. There are a lot of barriers to employment, and with that funding that we received we’re looking to support not only the workforce but also the businesses as well,” Murphy says.
A Community Improvement Plan offers to fund downtown Dundalk businesses that want to make façade or streetscape improvements, paying up to 50% of the cost of renovations. “We did receive some RED funding as well for downtown Dundalk,” adds Murphy. “We now have flower planters, and benches so that people can come after they do a little shopping and relax in those areas and enjoy the gathering spaces.”
A new tourism initiative, Historic Southgate, highlights all of the tourism, arts, and culture experiences available throughout the municipality. Murphy elaborates, “We have identified 119 points of interest around the township of historical significance, Hamlets, churches, and schools. Each of those locations has been uploaded to a website, www.historicsouthgate.ca. There’s a photo and some information about each of those locations, and then a driving tour of all of those points of interest. We’ve also indicated where they can stop and grab a bite to eat or have a picnic and support our local businesses while they’re out doing that.”
Southgate is the new home for the Grey County Kite Festival, being held in the Historic Hamlet of Hopeville on August 26 and 27, 2023. www.flyhopeville.ca This along with many other local events such as the Holstein Agro Expo, Maplefest, Oktoberfest, The Holstein Non-Motorized and Dundalk Santa Parades, and seasonal events hosted by local not-for-profit organizations, our Agricultural Society, Legion, Egremont Optimist Club and other community groups, give residents and visitors plenty to do.
The agriculture and on-farm industry, and the local food delights they provide, are another reason to live in, or visit, Southgate Township. “We have a lot of farm gate sales, where people who grow food sell food here, there’s a ton of opportunity to buy local foods, fruits, vegetables and meats. We have lovely butchers that sell their meats. J-Mar Meats is available right here in Southgate. The meat products are grown here and processed here, and they’re just lovely to have,” relays Murphy.
The Mennonite community has also embraced the bountiful opportunities in Southgate, purchasing farms, and supporting them with on-farm shops that make products for companies like Bombardier, Chrysler, and John Deere. Stredwick acknowledges, “These are small shops that have $4 million plasma laser cutters in them. They really do some amazing things in the countryside.”
Looking to the future, Mayor Milne says there is a sense of renewal in Southgate. “I see some really strong synergy coming out of the new people moving to our communities, the young families who are looking for a lifestyle and a solid place to raise their families, and invest their time and their efforts,” he remarks.
“That’s not to say that we’re going to ignore the legacy of the long-term residents that have lived here, certainly we feel a responsibility to respect their efforts in the past to build and maintain this township and this community. The challenge is to try to make it good for everybody, but still maintain that sense of safety and belonging.”
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AT A GLANCE
Township of Southgate, Ontario
What: A rural municipality in southwestern Ontario, attracting major residential growth
Where: Grey County, Ontario
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